The Final 14 Games

Once upon a time last season I compared the 2012 Yankees to the 2008 Yankees. That comparison came on May 4.

The 2012 season is slowly becoming the 2008 season for the Yankees. In 2008, the rotation featured Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson for the majority of the season with injuries to Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy. Andy Pettitte pitched poorly through injuries and several starting position players ended up on the disabled list. Pudge Rodriguez and Richie Sexson became Yankees and Jose Molina, Chad Moeller did most of the team’s catching. I hated the summer of 2008, but it’s hard to say we aren’t headed into a Hot Tub Time Machine back to it.

I’m embarrassed now to look back at that paragraph and think that a team, which turned into a 95-game division winner, could at one time have been compared to the only Yankees team to not make the postseason since 1993 (even if the 2008 Yankees did win 89 games). But really, the 2008 Yankees had it easy when it comes to the 2013 Yankees. Having Rasner and Ponson filling out 40 percent of your rotation for half the season? I would sign up for that right now for the rest of the way rather than having Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, David Adams and Chris Stewart fill out four of the nine spots in the order for the next three months.

After 81 games, the Yankees are 42-39 and the lineup has become the disabled list, the bench has become the lineup and the waiver wire and minor leagues have become the bench (and at some positions the lineup). If you’re in the Yankees minor league system right now having an above average offensive season and you haven’t been called up yet, in the words of Fortune in Rudy: “It ain’t never gonna happen.”

On Sunday night in the eighth with the Yankees trailing the Orioles 4-2 and left-handed Troy Patton on the mound, Vernon Wells hit for Travis Hafner (he struck out swinging of course). So when Overbay led off the ninth inning with a double off Jim Johnson and Nix, Stewart and Adams were due up, Girardi had two options left on the bench: Austin Romine and Alberto Gonzalez. And I’m pretty sure Girardi would have rather inserted 2012 Postseason Cano or 2012 Postseason A-Rod or 2012 Postseason Granderson or 2012 Postseason Swisher or 2012 Postseason Teixeira into the game before using his backup catcher or the .239/.276/.315 career hitting Gonzalez.

I wish I could justify writing columns hammering Nix and Stewart, who were going to be bench players. I wish I could find it in me to pick apart Overbay and Wells, who weren’t even going to be on the Yankees in the final days before Opening Day. I wish I could say it’s all Adams’ fault, especially since he ruined the 2010 Cliff Lee trade, but he’s shown over his 102 at-bats that he isn’t ready for the majors (and really he’s supposed to be in the Mariners organization anyway). But I can’t do any of these things because the 2013 Yankees weren’t supposed to be a collection of guys that couldn’t hit their weight and players you wouldn’t recognize if they sat next to you in a bar or took a piss next to you at a urinal in that same bar. The 2013 Yankees were supposed to be the players whose pictures line the outside of the Stadium on River Ave. leading up to the bleachers entrance where I recently told my girlfriend, “The entire street is on the disabled list.”

But I can justify calling out the two most important Yankees before the season started, who have thankfully not joined the over-capacity party on the disabled list.

Number 52, CC Sabathia, Number 52
In four previous seasons with the Yankees, CC Sabathia has lost eight games twice (2009 and 2011). It’s July 1, Sabathia has made 17 starts and he has six losses.

Sabathia has made nine starts against AL East teams this season. Here’s his line for those starts: 4-4, 62.2 IP, 68 H, 36 R, 34 ER, 9 BB, 51 K, ERA, 4.88 ERA, 1.229 WHIP. That would be somewhat OK for the 41-year-old Andy Pettitte and welcomed for Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova. But for the “ace” of the staff, it’s unacceptable. (I will continue to put “ace” in quotations when talking about Sabathia until he starts to pitch like one again.)

Sabathia will make $23 million this season. If he makes 34 starts this season (see where I’m going with this?), he will make $676,470.59 per start. He doesn’t need to be better for the Yankees to survive the summer, he has to be better for the Yankees to survive the summer.

Sabathia’s start on Friday night in Baltimore was so awful on so many levels that is was the most tilted I have been during a Yankees regular-season game since the team was losing games to the last-place Red Sox down the stretch last September. Sabathia blew a 3-0 lead and a game against a division rival to kickoff the weekend sweep at the hands of the Orioles and continue what has now become a five-game losing streak for the Yankees that has their season at a crossroads. Should a $23 million “ace” be blowing a three-run lead in a game the Yankees desperately need against a team they are fighting the division for? There’s only one answer and it’s no. Citing John and Suzyn’s “Well, that’s baseball” doesn’t work for someone making over $676K per start.

Since we used one Rudy line already, we might as well use a second to talk about Sabathia and this one comes from Coach DeVine when Roland Steele tells him he wants Rudy to dress in his place before putting his jersey down on the desk: “You’re an All-American and our captain. Act like it.”

Well, CC … You’re owed $122 million over five years following your 2012 extension, you’re a Cy Young winner, world champion and the “ace” of our staff. Act like it.

Number 24, Robinson Cano, Number 24
It’s been a while since we have heard that Robinson Cano is one of the Top 5 players in baseball. That’s probably because it’s hard to justify being in that category when you’re hitting .287 with 17 home runs and 48 RBIs halfway through the season. (On Sunday night, Cano hit a solo home run, which was his first home run in 17 days and his first extra-base hit in 14 days.) But for as tired as I grew hearing about Cano being in the same sentence as actual MVP winners, I’m growing equally as tired hearing about how Cano won’t get any pitches to hit in the current Yankees lineup and how he will be pitched around because of the lack of protection. That didn’t stop the Sunday Night Baseball crew from bringing it up in support of Cano against Baltimore, but then again they did compare Chris Davis to Ken Griffey Jr. so you might want to take anything the trio says with a grain of salt, or an entire bottle of it the way my friend Scanlon dumps it on anything he eats.

When Cano struggled at the beginning of the season, the Yankees struggled. When Cano got hot, the Yankees got hot. It’s no secret the Yankees’ success is determined by the performance of the team’s best hitter. While this could be a “chicken or the egg” thing in that the rest of the Yankees were also hitting when they were in first place, which could have led to Cano’s surging performance, it can’t be when talking about someone with Cano’s talents and reputation. You can’t talk about how great Cano is and then make excuses for him when he isn’t great and cite the rest of the team’s problems as his problem, the same way there couldn’t be a hooking call and diving call on the same play in the Stanley Cup Final.

This offseason (and possibly before then if Brian Cashman breaks his rule about contract extensions for the second time with Cano) Cano will turn 31 on Oct. 22 (hopefully during the Yankees’ playoff run) and will be looking for the payday that will set him and many generations of Canos up for life. No matter what, Cano is going to get paid and get paid handsomely (most likely by the Yankees), but his performance this season (and going back to the 2012 postseason) isn’t going to get him paid the way Jay-Z will want him to get paid.

In 2007, the Yankees faced a 12-game stretch that the Daily News believed would make or break their season by calling it the “Dirty Dozen.” If the Yankees are supposed to get healthy after the All-Star break then the 14-game stretch in 14 days starting Monday night in Minnesota will make or break their season. Yes, seven games with the Twins, three with the Orioles and four with the Royals at the beginning of July will determine my plans for October.

I said I was embarrassed to look back on that May 4, 2012 column suggesting that the 2012 Yankees were the 2008  Yankees. I want to be embarrassed looking back on this column suggesting that the 2013 Yankees played the 14 most meaningful games of their season in the first two weeks of July.